Firehawks dominate, but Hamilton recovers last-minute

BP Photo By Emilie Benyowitz

By Sharona Sedighm, Staff Writer

In another first for this year’s team, Shalhevet boys’ varsity basketball, a Division 6 team, played against Division 3 teams – mostly public schools with over 2,000 students – in the Beverly Hills High School Basketball Tournament earlier this month.

Shalhevet was the only private school to participate in the tournament and played against LAUSD’s Alexander Hamilton High School and Beverly High early December. Though they lost both games, the Firehawks did better than many expected,and were able to keep the lead throughout most of the game against Hamilton on Dec. 7.  The final score was 71-64.

“I was in shock that they [Hamilton] were able to keep fighting and eventually take the lead,” said senior and co-captain Yossi Halpert. “We just started to get lazy and we lost composure at the end of the game. Yes, it sucks that we lost, but I was happy with the way we played and that we were able to keep up with a school three divisions higher than us.”

The first quarter was a success with the Shalhevet team making most of its shots and getting several rebounds, with great communication on the court. Co-captain and junior Ari Wachtenheim, who was injured and therefore couldn’t play, watched from the sidelines.

The Firehawks finished the quarter strong with a score of 23-20, and from the start of the second quarter, the Firehawks continued to play well. They didn’t back down from their shots and made several free throws. Hamilton seemed to be losing focus. At half time, Shalhevet was also in the lead 40-34.

“Hamilton came out thinking it was going to be a blowout and they were wrong,” said Ari.  “In the beginning they didn’t play as well as I thought they would.”

Hamilton player Theo Philips confirmed that assessment.

“We came out too cocky,” said Theo. “We didn’t know what to expect from Shalhevet. They have really good shooters.”

But Hamilton’s team made a comeback in the final quarter and put in visible effort to make shots and get all the rebounds. At halftime, Shalhevet was leading 40-34.

After halftime, the Firehawks were at their top performance, making shot after shot, and leaving Hamilton in the dust. Freshman Simcha Halpert showed that age and size doesn’t matter in basketball. One of two freshmen on the varsity team, along with Adam Kaufler, Simcha was able to make all but one or two shots in the second half of the game. He and junior Jojo Fallas had consistent communication and passes that caught Hamilton off-guard.

“We played very well, got loose balls and made plenty of shots,” said Simcha.

Jojo fought hard on the court. From being open on the court and passing the ball to teammates to making a buzzer shot, Jojo showed the qualities of an MVP.

The third quarter ended with the Firehawks up by 10, 47-37.

The fourth and final quarter was different. Hamilton caught Shalhevet basking in its glory and took advantage. The Firehawk players began throwing the ball to the other team, lost communication and were caught off guard by Hamilton’s defense and speed.

“Hamilton is a very good team,” said JoJo. “They didn’t make a lot of mistakes, and they capitalized on our mistakes and took advantage of situations when they could.”

Ari pep-talked them from the sidelines, giving them advice and telling them to stay confident. But Hamilton started making all its three-point shots, and with one minute and four seconds to go, the game was tied.

The crowd watched in suspense as the clock ticked down, slowly creeping toward the 30-second mark. Hamilton made all its last minute free-throws – five in all — and the final score of the game was Hamilton 71, Shalhevet 64.

The Firehawks worked hard, but were not able to finish.

“In the game, everything just went by so fast,” said Jojo. “In the last quarter, it felt as if nothing we were doing was going right, and everything they were doing was working.”

The teams exchanged handshakes and “Good games,” and headed straight towards the locker room. They talked about the game and discussed mistakes.

“I think its good for us to play a higher level of competition,” said Yossi. “We are really tested in this tournament and we are able to grow as a team when faced against a stronger opponent.”

“They played smart,” said Theo of his opponents. “They got around us, but we learned from our mistakes, and we got back in the game. Our coach talked to us during halftime, and our spirits came up. Both teams played very well.”

In order to keep improving, the Firehawks are practicing plays and scrimmaging. They are also watching old basketball game videos so they can see their mistakes and know what exactly they need to fix.